I was ghosted, by someone I’d been very close to, back in late 2018. I won’t go into the details of that story here — I’ve already told parts of it in past blogs including “Story Behind the Song: Wishing You Well” and “Story Behind the Album: The Road That I Must Take”. “Ghosts” isn’t really about that, though related experiences did serve as the initial inspiration for the song’s title. I’ll get to that, and the rest of the story of “Ghosts”, shortly, but perhaps you’d like to listen to the song first? Here you go:
Now that we’ve got that out of the way…
Initial Inspiration: The Title
Around a half a year after being ghosted, I saw “her” (i.e. the woman who’d ghosted me), in real life, at a venue where we used to hang out and make music together. She totally ignored me, like I wasn’t even there. This experience was repeated a few more times over the next few months. Somewhere around mid-September 2019, I made a note in my song ideas notebook that read, “Ghost (not necessarily title): About being ghosted and feeling like a ghost whose words are not heard.”
I jotted down a whole bunch of brainstorming-level ideas, some in lyrical form, in the process of trying to flesh out the concept. The basic thought going around in my mind was, in the case of ghosting, and the sort of in-person encounters I’d now been having, who is the ghost? Is she the ghost? That is, am I just seeing someone who really isn’t there? Or am I the ghost? That is, am I not visible or audible to her because she can’t see ghosts?
I have a little over three pages of notes from that period, but nothing was really feeling right. I just couldn’t figure out where to take the concept, so I let the idea sit on the shelf.
A Year Plus Later
Cut to November 2020, and I came across a song opportunity brief seeking “dark, gritty” singer-songwriter songs for a TV series. The musical style seemed like something I could do, though I had no clue what I’d write about. The listing included three songs for stylistic references, and it struck me that all three of the songs related to memories of a failed relationship.
When I come across a pitch opportunity that will require me to write a new song, and I have no clue what to write about, one of the first things I do is scan my various lists of song ideas to see if I’ve got anything that might provide some sort of starting point. It was in this context that I came across my earlier notes regarding the “ghost” concept.
After brainstorming with myself for a bit, I hit on the notion that ghosts could serve as a metaphor for memories. Memories can haunt us. We’d like to chase some memories away, and there are other memories we’d like to bring back as they start to fade. The connection to being ghosted also figured into this in the sense that memories of one’s past can affect how we view events in our present, even if the realities may be very different.
One of my early conceptual notes, after hitting on the idea of ghosts representing memories read, “Ghosts represent memories that are fading, or maybe people who’ve gone out of one’s life. The ‘ghosts’ fade as time goes by, and we miss the ghosts when they are gone.” Soon after that, I also came up with a possible chorus:
I miss the ghosts I miss the ghosts I miss those ghosts today
Once I made the connection between ghosts and memories, the song evolved quite rapidly My earlier brainstorming had turned up quite a number of images related to ghosts, providing “fodder” to come up with individual lines in the lyric. The original story of the ghosting, while not made explicit in the lyric, which is intended to be more universal than a ghosting story, provided some idea on structure.
The first part of the song dealt with the memories that can haunt us, affecting our actions in the present when confronted with situations that seem, at least on the surface, similar to traumatic situations from our pasts:
Phantoms steal just out of sight Slip into mists of time Flickers of some distant flame Dance across your mind And you chase them away Can't let yourself believe Memories haunt your day-to-day And will not let you go Whispers of your left behinds Chill you to the soul So you chase them away Ooh, oh, oh There've been so many ghosts So many ghosts So many ghosts along the way
The second part of the song shifts to the perspective of the present tense person who has been affected by the actions undertaken based on the traumatic memories of the “you” of the first part:
Yesterday was long ago And nothing is the same Shadows in the stormy night Have taken you away And they won't let you go Oh, no, no I've seen so many ghosts So many ghosts So many ghosts along the way
The final section of the lyric revisits the language of the first part of the song, but from the affected person’s perspective:
Phantoms steal just out of sight Slip into mists of time Flickers of some distant flame Dance across my mind But they fade away Even though I still believe Memories lost along the way I thought would never go Whispers of my left behinds That warmed me to my soul But they've gone away Oh, no, no I miss the ghosts I miss the ghosts I miss those ghosts today There've been so many ghosts So many ghosts So many ghosts along the way
There was a challenge, though. How could I break up the potential monotony of the structure. I needed a musical bridge, but I didn’t have anything further I wanted to say. Perhaps I didn’t need to say anything new? Maybe just singing some “ghost sounds” would do? Perhaps this was a copout, but I think it worked. (The bridge just repeats, “oh,” a bunch of times.)
Recording and Release
I’d recorded a simple guitar-vocal version of the song for the initial pitch since I didn’t have time to do anything beyond that by the deadline (and some of the reference recordings were also very stripped down). However, my vision for the song, while still relatively stripped down, was somewhat fuller, adding thick vocal harmonies and percussion. I finished the final recording on December 12th and decided to release it as my first single of 2021.
After all the COVID-19-related considerations that dominated most of 2020, which were still very present in early 2021, “Ghosts” felt like a fitting way to ring in the new year. The ghosting that provided the initial spark of inspiration for the song may not have been terribly relevant, but the notion of being haunted by some memories while longing to revisit others seemed very timely.
With the lockdowns that were still in progress here in Southern California, I didn’t get the opportunity to perform “Ghosts” live in public until June 1st of this year. I tell an extremely condensed version of this story when I play it, but now you know the whole story.